I am writing on behalf of my brother. My brother is 55 years old, black, and was born dyslexic. Extreme poverty, race and family dynamics kept him from being correctly diagnosed until a few years ago. At this point he can only read on a second or third grade level. When he was small, my mother was told that he was “retarded” and could not learn and later on educators and our community simply treated him as if he was stupid or lazy. He is desperate to learn to read. And I am desperate to help him. He has worked with several tutors and volunteers with no success. He runs out and purchases anything that someone tells him will help. In the meantime, he has raised a family, put a son through college, and manages his own transportation business. In many ways he is an extraordinary man and very intelligent. He wants very much to vote in this coming presidential election. (It will be the first time he has voted in his life). I have a plan for helping him do this (memorizing the ballot and early or mail in voting). However, what we really need is a credible, effective, and dedicated service/tutor resource etc. that can work with him to help him learn to read.

Are you aware of any resources in Virginia that you can recommend? Any help you are able to provide will be gratefully appreciated.

Dr. Pierson's Response: 
I am so sorry that your brother continues to struggle because of not being properly identified or taught in the public schools. His is a story that continues to be told to me, unfortunately. Aggravated is not even the word to describe how I feel or what I think about this. Recently, at the International Dyslexia Association, we have been having discussions about reading as a civil right. Indeed. I do hope he is proud of what he has achieved -- remarkable, given his reading challenges!

I am in Michigan so do not personally know resources for you in Virginia. It can be VERY hard to find someone who have expertise/experience to work with an adult with dyslexia. I typically refer people to the provider list from the International Dyslexia Assoc. for their state. Here is Virginia. It doesn't look like there are a lot of options for you.

If you were closer to Maryland, you might reach out to the speech-language department at Towson University. I did a web search of services in Virginia and none of the tutors that I read about talked about dyslexia intervention using evidence-based practices (i.e., Structured Literacy). Tutors can be general or special education teachers who have skills in teaching reading to someone who is not dyslexic. Our current Schools of Education, by en large, do not teach the tenets of Structured Literacy ( i.e., systematic, explicit instruction using a multi-sensory approach). With the right approach, we can teach adults to read. My partner at my private clinical practice, Dr. Lauren Katz, has been working with a 40+ year old man whom the public schools graduated as a "non-reader" despite having been identified for special education services. Dr. Katz is teaching him to read.

If you and he are going to work together, then I might recommend Marcia Henry's book, WORDS: Integrated Decoding and Spelling Instruction Based on Word Origin and Word Structure – Second Edition. It would give you a place to start and is a systematic set of lessons beginning with vowels and consonants, but it is not comprehensive. Given that dyslexia is a language-based learning disability, one of the first steps is to identify how he is perceiving and manipulating the sounds (phonemes) and syllables of our language; and then we work on mapping those sounds to the letters (phonics). We also work on understanding different parts of words (morphology), which aids in spelling and reading multi-syllabic words. Henry's book covers this. I think given where you are located, that might be the best resource for you.

Relative to voting, yes -- copy the ballot and he should just practice (simulate) filling it in as if he were at the polls. He should have a paper with him with the names and opening line of any proposals to cross check when he goes. The more he practices, the more at ease he'll be when he gets to the voting booth.

I wish I had more answers for you. Please don't hesitate to ask other questions. He's lucky to have you!!